Alfred the Butler Tends to His Gardner

"The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne"

    -- Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowles, ln. 1

Matthew Perpetua's FLUXBLOG is usually a pretty-darned-good MP3 weblog, but Matthew recently took a moment to indulge his fondness for The Art of the Comic with a nod [here] to


[Michael Allred's] brilliant 'Batman A-Go-Go!,' an ambitious story that makes a strong case for the upbeat, flamboyant Batman of the 60s over the dreary, oppressive Batman of the past twenty years.  The story is as much about Batman's cultural evolution as it is about Allred's pro-joy philosophy of art.  He totally nails it on this page [also accessible by clicking the excerpted detail at right], as Alfred Pennyworth challenges the popular notion that the only valid depiction of reality in art is ugly and relentlessly negative.

The treat here, for me, is the notion that Stately Wayne Manor contains, if only in the butler's private library, a copy of the late John Gardner's On Moral Fiction, an imperfect but worthy book that I make it a point to revisit every few years.  Gardner was last mentioned here in connection with the operatic adaptation of his novel, Grendel; I have held Gardner's writing in high regard since I first read that book over 30 years ago.

On Moral Fiction is frequently criticized by people who have never read it, not unlike Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind (though Gardner's book has never sold remotely the number of copies as Bloom's).  Gardner held strong opinions and, as strongly opinionated persons will, not always with basis in fact. 

A good portion of the book is taken up with clouting various of Gardner's contemporaries in the fiction game about the head and shoulders for their sins.  Many of those writers are hardly heard of anymore -- meaning either that Gardner was right or that he was wasting his time critiquing minor practitioners.  Of the writers who still appear on the lit'ry radar, Gardner got it wrong as often as he got it right.  Broad swaths of his critique of John Barth are unjustified, to take a prominent example, and he is much too harsh on Thomas Pynchon.  His essential premise, however, was sound and while it may not be the only commendable way in which to approach the writing of fiction, it is certainly one of the most commendable.

As Gardner acknowledged at the time, he let himself in for no end of trouble when he elected to incorporate the M-word -- "MORAL" -- into his title.  Well before the book was first published in 1979, "morality" had come to be seen as the province of prudes and self-important puritanical sorts, and any number of well-read readers had developed a near-allergic reaction to the very idea that the moral and the immoral were worth identifying and separating from one another.  Gardner never held a brief for puritanism (despite his own chronic inability to write a credible sex scene).  His notion of The Moral had more in common with The True and The Beautiful than with Conventional Right Thinking or Good Behavior.  (Alfred's comic-book synopsis above is a major oversimplification.)

In a long posthumously published interview with The Paris Review, downloadable [38 pages, in PDF format] from this page, Gardner gave one of his better thumbnail statements of what he was on about:

You've recently had essays appear on the subject of what you call 'moral fiction' and 'moral criticism.'  Some readers might have trouble with the word 'moral.'  Could you explain what you mean by 'moral?'  The word, as you've acknowledged, has pejorative implications these days.

I know.  It shouldn't.  I certainly don't mean fiction that preaches.  I'm talking mainly -- though not exclusively -- about works of fiction that are moral in their process.  That is to say, the way they work is moral.  Good works of fiction study values by testing them in imagined/real situations, testing them hard, being absolutely fair to both sides.  The real moral writer is the opposite of the minister, the preacher, the rabbi.  Insofar as he can, the preacher tries to keep religion as it always was, outlawing contraceptives or whatever; his job is conservative.  The writer's job on the other hand, is to be radically open to persuasion.  He should, if possible, not be committed to one side more than the other  -- which is simply to say that he wants to affirm life, not sneer at it -- but he has to be absolutely fair, understanding the moral limits of his partisanship.  His affirmation has to be earned.  If he favors the cop, he must understand the arguments for life on the side of the robber.

What would be 'immoral' fiction?

Mainly, fiction goes immoral when it stops being fair, when it stops trusting the laboratory experiment.  You lie about characters, you make people do what you want them to do.  This is characteristic of most hot-shot writers around now.  I would agree with people who get nervous around the word 'morality,' because usually the people who shout 'immoral' are those who want to censor things, or think that all bathroom scenes or bedroom scenes or whatever are wicked.  That kind of morality is life-denying, evil.  But I do think morality is a real thing that's worth talking about....

[Gardner completists will want to visit the John C. Gardner Appreciation Page, which includes a reproduction of a business card he used while a Visiting Professor at the University of Detroit in the early '70s -- "medievalist, novelist, banjoist, lyric and epic poet - consultant on all subjects" -- and an annotated map [PDF] of Batavia, New York, Gardner's birthplace and the setting for The Sunlight Dialogues, which appears to have fallen out of print.]

In On Moral Fiction, the one of his contemporaries for whom Gardner reserved the most praise was John Fowles, who died earlier this month at the age of 79.  Alan Sullivan's post was the first to bring Fowles' passing to my attention; a good collection of Fowlesian links can be found, naturally, at The Elegant Variation.  Most of the obituaries for Fowles focus on The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman (which gives the obituarists the added bonus of another opportunity to drop a curtsy to Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter, who wrote the screenplay for the film version), but Gardner favored Daniel Martin, which was just being published at the same time as On Moral FictionDaniel Martin was Fowles' attempt -- successful in my view -- at the old-fashioned Serious Novel of Character and Ideas, and is notable for the excellence of its descriptions of nature and for the lengths to which Fowles goes, without ever resorting to cheap plot trickery, to keep his two principal characters out of one another's beds until very near the end of its pages.  Daniel Martin's opening sentence would be a good summation of the goal of Gardner's "moral" writer:


Les Femmes Savantes

I'm looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will make me do my best,
And if I find my hard headed woman
I know the rest of my life will be blessed -- yes, yes, yes.

-- Cat Stevens [Yusuf Islam]

Independent_cover_1 The DRUDGE REPORT linked a story this morning from The Independent, profiling one of the suspected London bombers -- that story is here for those who are interested -- and reproduced the paper's front page, shown at right. 

This weblog is likely not your primary source for news concerning the Global War on Terror -- if it is, you are setting yourself up for disappointment -- but it is a not-infrequent source of items concerning Camille Paglia.  (E.g., the concluding item here.)  And there she is, friends, high atop Page 1 of today's Independent, taking issue with BBC Radio 4's recent "Greatest Philosopher" poll -- in which Karl Marx tops such relative lightweights as Hume, Wittgenstein, Nietzsche, and some dusty Greeks of No Importance -- for producing an all-male outcome.  Professor Paglia is prepared to correct the Beeb's error with her own list of "Ten great female philosophers: The thinking woman's women". 

Being Professor Paglia, of course, she can't resist some overarching commentary on the state of the discipline:

It has become tiresome to constantly blame every blip in women's lives on sexism and discrimination by men.  Today's lack of major female philosophers is not due to lack of talent but to the collapse of philosophy.  Philosophy as traditionally practiced may be a dead genre.  This is the age of the internet in which we are constantly flooded by information in fragments.  Each person at the computer is embarked on a quest for and fabrication of his or her identity.  The web mimics human neurology, and it is fundamentally altering young people's brains.  The web, for good or ill, is instantaneous.  Philosophy belongs to a vanished age of much slower and rhetorically formal inquiry.

Today's philosophers are now antiquarians.

Classical Glass [updated]

Koyaanisqatsi_figuresI did not become aware until after the fact that Canyonlands National Park, at a far remove from any of the parts that we managed to visit last week, includes The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, where one can find the mysterious fellows pictured to the right.  They and the entire Canyonlands region -- including the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, inadvertently omitted from yesterday's inventory -- feature prominently in Godfrey Reggio/Philip Glass' 1983 Koyaanisqatsi, which turned up as the subject of a post by AC Douglas while I was out. 

The Alex Ross New Yorker piece on film music to which ACD links is terrific.  In addition to the Koyaanisqatsi discussion, it includes an appreciation of Michael Giacchino's score for ABC Television's Lost, a score that demonstrates how much can be done with a very few notes when they are just the right ones.  Giacchino's range as a composer of dramatic music is impressive: he also contributed the best James Bond score never used in a Bond movie to Brad Bird/Pixar's The Incredibles, which should rank high on any list of that film's seemingly innumerable pleasures.

ACD offers Ross' essay -- I suspect he would offer much of Ross' work, including his weblog, The Rest Is Noise -- in refutation to "all those mutterings and auguries of doom I read recently in Big Media about the death of the professional arts critic in our new technology-created, democratic journalistic era in which anyone with access to the Internet can be an arts critic . . . ."  (I hopped atop that particular hobby-horse, as expressed rather sloppily by the Los Angeles Times, here.) 

The problem is not that top-notch professional arts critics have disappeared -- Alex Ross is only one of a comfortingly long list of examples of professionals writing regularly and strongly, even for major publications, on arts-related subjects -- as it is that their influence on the larger populace appears to have diminished.  The perception that "critics don't matter," whether right or wrong, drives publishing decisions and in many cases has led to cutbacks in the space allotted to those critics, no matter how talented they may be, or limitations on the type of writing they are asked to contribute.  When is the last time anyone (other than perhaps Robert Hughes on the visual arts) published well-written, erudite criticism in Time magazine, for instance, a publication that formerly at least maintained the appearance that it was making an effort to provide something other than celebrity puffery in the "back of the book"?  The New Yorker, despite being more interested in politics these days than in the arts, flouts the trend somewhat, but do any of the New Yorker critics of today "make a difference" in the way that, say, Pauline Kael and Penelope Gilliat did with their film writing in the 70s?  Probably not, except to the already converted, e.g., those who already care a good deal about the sort of music that Ross writes about and who actively follow his writing because they know in advance that he will deliver the goods more often than not.  So, as good as Alex Ross is and as prominent a platform as the New Yorker provides for him, I am not so convinced as ACD that this single example entirely debunks the general grumping over the Sorry Lot of Professional Critics.

And in any case, those Canyonlands sure are impressive.  As is Koyaanisqatsi.


[06/23/05]: No sooner did I invoke Robert Hughes above as an example of "well-written, erudite criticism" than up popped a case in point: a fine Hughes piece in the Guardian on the new Richard Serra installation at the Guggenheim Bilbao.  Hughes takes as his premise the modest suggestion that Serra is "not only the best sculptor alive, but the only great one at work anywhere in the early 21st century", and proceeds to support that assertion along these lines:

Now 65, Serra has embarked on a magnificent, productive maturity.  Put in the simplest terms - ones that Serra might find too simple, but never mind - his achievement has been to give fabricated steel the power and density, the emotional address to the human body, the sense of empathy and urgency and liberation, that once belonged only to bronze and stone, but now no longer does.  He has achieved a very deep synthesis, and it may not matter whether others follow him.  Once you are in the enormous Guggenheim gallery which these sculptures fill, once you are absorbed in their space and pacing out their convolutions, you feel suddenly free - far from the dead zone of mass-media quotation, released from all that vulgar, tedious postmodernist litter and twitter, from the creepy posturings, tired bad-boy claptrap and squalid sanctimony that characterise PoMo and BritArt.  It is quite a good feeling - rather like the old days, one's inner fogey is tempted to say.  The work is as new as new could be, but when you are experiencing it you may also think of an 18th-century definition of the spirit of classical sculpture: 'A noble inwardness,' wrote Johann Winckelmann, 'a calm grandeur.'  Eine edle Einfalt, eine stille Grösse.  Without the white gods, of course.

Elsewhere, Hughes cites Saint-Gaudens and Rodin, Bernini and Louis XIV, and an unnamed Greek philosopher.  He even offers some high-art gossip concerning Serra and Bilbao's architect Frank Gehry (which I hope does not offend ACD, a known and serious Gehry partisan):

The gallery [Serra's installation] occupies is the biggest in the museum - a vast room, some 430 ft long by 80 ft wide.  Paintings hung in it before, and they usually looked diminished by Gehry's architecture - sometimes to the point of silliness or near-invisibility.  But Serra's work dominates Gehry's space like a rhinoceros in a parlour.  (There's said to be considerable animosity between the two men; if that's so, one certainly knows, in this case, who the winner is.)

Above all, Hughes has the technical skills and the gift for tactile language (also apparent in Alex Ross) to make the reader "see" Serra's work, and to instill the desire to see Serra's work:

***The space inside, the gap between the walls, narrows, widens, breathes in and out (if you can speak of massive iron "breathing", which in Serra's work you can) and eventually rewards you with an inner chamber, from which you have to follow the same route out.  At all points these constructions are open to the upper air, the gallery roof (and hence the architecture of the gallery) or the sky.  But you can see out of them only by looking up, which doesn't really help you locate yourself.  You would think it would be claustrophobic, terrifying, to be in the narrow curving slot between these giant planes, to be unable to see what lies ahead.  Indeed, the fear of being crushed like a bug on an anvil has always been present in responses to Serra's work, a bass vibrato at the edge of consciousness.  But you have to trust him, or lose the work in its entirety.  There is just no way of experiencing these pieces by looking from the outside, or in photos, or on video: the initial view of them from the balcony above the Arcelor gallery is impressively dramatic, yet it's the merest pipe-opener to what unfolds close up and at floor level.

Lovely.  Read the whole thing, whether you are interested in Serra, interested in fine critical writing or, better yet, interested in both.  (Link via ArtsJournal.)

P.S.,  I had thought for a moment that I might draw a full-circle connection between Richard Serra and Philip Glass.  Alas, my memory tricked me: the documentary film for which Glass composed his North Star pieces back in 1977 -- the first Glass music I ever heard -- was not about Serra, but instead about another sculptor, Mark di Suvero.

[Incidental and deeply pointless music trivia: the title piece from "North Star" was later appropriated and worked into the finale of "Platinum" by, of all people, Mike "Tubular Bells" Oldfield.  Odd.]

Whoosh! Swish! Zap!

Too many shadows, whispering voices
Faces on posters, too many choices
If, when, why, what?
How much have you got?
Have you got it, do you get it, if so, how often?
Which do you choose, the hard or soft option?

        -- Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls"


Snipped and saved nearly a week ago, from a much longer piece by Michael Blowhard:

* * * As far as the media go, we're living in a very different state than people were only a few decades ago.  We no longer have three or four TV stations, but hundreds.  We no longer share top 40 radio; we can tune into tons of segmented music markets instead.  We no longer rely on a couple of dozen magazines, but are able to easily access hundreds and hundreds of publications, whether on paper or online.  Not to mention the web's infinite other temptations, and not to mention the kinds of design developments (spinning imagery, lotsa color, dancing typefaces, etc) that we like to keep track of on this blog.

This new media environment is great in one sense -- it's a media cornucopia!  But this new media environment also seems to play a hard-to-deny role in a lot of conditions many of us may not be crazy about: decreased reading, increased inability to think straight, kids who are jaded about everything by the time they're 12, the sexualizing of children, the degradation of culture generally.

An example: computers have enabled filmmakers to soup up movies.  The kind of movie rhetoric -- the kind of imagery and sound -- being presented to us in theaters these days is much richer than it was just a few decades back.  The imagery is so much swoopier and the sonics are so much ka-thumpier that many kids raised on these movies seem unable to see anything going on whatsoever in older movies.  They don't know what they're meant to be watching or listening to; old movies, however great, just seem dull to them.  Yet few people (aside, presumably, from such media-battered kids) would make the case that we're living in an era of good movies.

Jon Hastings, who appears to have returned to more active posting at The Forager Blog, nicely synthesizes M. Blowhard's commentary with other recent "too many choices" items from around the cultural weblogging neighborhood.  I'd offer to do the job myself, but I must be going . . . .

No Meme Is An Island [Updated] [Twice]

This pesky little parlor game -- often referred to in the literature as "The Stick" -- has been circulating like a dubious sawbuck on a rotisserie for something like two months now -- a Technorati search for one of its distinctive terms (the crush on a fictional character) yields more than 2300 results -- but it did not come to me until it was referred by Our Lady of Longhorns, Cowtown Pattie.   I'm not really one for such party tricks, especially being such a late comer to the project, but I was also raised with good manners and so cannot say "no" when a proper lady poses a question.  So . . . here we go:

1. You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?

A.S Byatt's Possession: A Romance. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll fall in love all over again in your choice of eras, you'll drink your fill of Victorian poetry pastiche and faerie tales, it climaxes in a storm in a graveyard, and there is even an heroic solicitor in it.  Who could ask for more?

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

You bet I have.  Josh Corey, responding to this question over a month ago,  mentioned Emma Thompson as Beatrice in Kenneth Branagh's film of Much Ado About Nothing.  Ms. Thompson is a near-perfect embodiment of that character, as was Kathleen Widdoes in the less well known 1973 New York Shakespeare Festival version (opposite young Sam Waterston's Benedick).  Those performances are merely the fleshing out of a fictional person I have been stuck on since I first encountered her.  While I dote on Shakespeare's Beatrice, Dante's Beatrice would be out of the question: there is probably a special circle reserved for anyone who would presume to a "crush" on her.  Other examples of crushworthy fictions: Anne Elliot in Persuasion, Jennet Jordemayne in The Lady's Not for Burning, Cyrano de Bergerac's Roxanne (who doesn't deserve it, so perhaps I'm just feeling sympathetic to Cyrano's own plight).  And many more! 

Chris Lott got the answer to this one exactly right:

If you haven’t [had a crush on a fictional character], then you either need to start reading books that don’t have any pictures . . . or give up on the enterprise altogether.  Maybe reading’s just not for you.  Double points off if you’ve only had crushes on television and/or movie characters.

3. The last book you bought was...?

Ordered but not yet received: Jack Gilbert's Refusing Heaven.

Pre-ordered simultaneously: Mark Helprin's forthcoming Freddy and Fredericka.

4. The last book you read was...?

Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities, but it doesn't really count because I only read it so that I could discuss it with my son who has to read it for a college course.

On my own initiative, the last book I completed was Gene Wolfe's The Wizard.

5. What are you currently reading?

Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn.

6. Five books you would take to a desert island...

  • Every participant seems to opt for either the Bible or a collected Shakespeare as Choice #1, and I'm no different.  Shakespeare it is.  I would opt for A.L. Rowse's out of print Annotated Shakespeare, but each one has his or her favorite edition.
  • A good edition of the collected English poetry of John Donne, because the spectrum from sacred to profane shines within it; also, he wrote that poem about not being an island, which would be good to read whilst being on an island.
  • Moby-Dick, because it really does contain nearly as much as the aforementioned Shakespeare, and because the whale is nearly as large as an island;
  • I'm stuck on a desert island, so I also select Robinson Crusoe, for the obvious reason that it is about being on a desert island and because a fictional character -- the butler, Gabriel Betteridge, in Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone -- recommends it in terms that are hard to resist:

Such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again.  I have tried that book for years - generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco - and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life.  When my spirits are bad - Robinson Crusoe.  When I want advice - Robinson Crusoe.  In past times, when my wife plagued me; in present times, when I have had a drop too much - Robinson Crusoe.  I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoes with hard work in my service.  On my lady's last birthday she gave me a seventh.  I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe set me right again.

[Quote found conveniently in this First Things article -- "The Strange Shipwreck of Robinson Crusoe" -- which emphasizes how little most folk know these days of the True Spiritual Nature of the Crusoe.]

  • I am stymied in committing to a fifth choice: something visual [The Art Book, perhaps]?  Something humorous, such as Thurber?   Another long novel?  The pressure's too much; I can't commit.

7. Who are you passing this stick on to and why?

I bequeath and bestow this here Stick upon the following, in perpetuity or until such time as they bid this stick pass from them:

  • To escapegrace, because she is Los Angeles' newest culturally interesting weblogiste, freshly transplanted from New York, and because each and every one of you should click through immediately and give her your attention;
  • Jointly and severally, to Evan Schaeffer and David Giacalone, because not nearly enough lawyers have participated thus far -- and what a wonderful world it would be if more lawyers spent time on frivolous pursuits such as this one; and, of course,
  • To my best chum Rick at Futurballa, because we share whenever possible and because, even though he's answered most of the questions already, no one has officially asked him to play, until just now.

My work here is done, citizens.


UPDATE [05/10/05]:  The moving Stick writes and having writ moves on.  Here are links to the responses of those to whom I passed it along:

  • escapegrace [a responce just as interesting and eclectic as I suspected it woudl be]
  • Evan Schaeffer [who -- tsk, tsk -- doesn't acknowledge the source from which the Stick came to him, but who earns further points with me for taking John Cheever's collected stories along to the island]
  • Futurballa [Rick fetches the Stick for the second time.]

David, meanwhile, assures me through back channels that he is giving it a lot of thought; I can't hardly wait.

UPDATE 2 [5/14/05]: His disclaimers in the comments below notwithstanding, David Giacalone has done his duty and posted his responses.  As a bonus, there is Topless Shakespeare content, but I think it's safe for work.  [I'll be watching for that first Google hit looking for "topless Shakespeare."  Thanks for the opportunity, David!]

Susan Sontag Breaks Camp, Moves On Into Larger World

So when I go to a Patti Smith concert, I enjoy, participate, appreciate and am tuned in better because I’ve read Nietzsche.

    -- Susan Sontag (Rolling Stone interview)

Professor Althouse links an early obituary for writer/intellectual Susan Sontag, who died today of leukemia at age 71.  Although the link is to Newsday, the story actually originates with its Tribune Company compatriot, the Los Angeles Times, and the excerpt quoted on the Althouse weblog serves to remind that although one always thinks of Sontag as a New Yorker, her origins were very much tied to southern California.  (The reference to the long gone and much missed Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard - at one time the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi, subsequently acquired and run into oblivion by the B. Dalton chain - raised a smile for me.)

Accompanying the obituary, Newsday also reproduces large portions of an April 7 speech Ms. Sontag gave here in Los Angeles, on the occasion of her receiving an award from the Los Angeles Public Library.   Two passages caught my eye.  First, a comment on the functions of literature (which surprisingly would not have been out of place in John Gardner's oft-maligned manifesto, On Moral Fiction):

Literature is a form of responsibility—to literature itself and to society. By literature, I mean literature in the normative sense, the sense in which literature incarnates and defends high standards. By society, I mean society in the normative sense too, which suggests that a great writer of fiction, by writing truthfully about the society in which she or he lives, cannot help but evoke (if only by their absence) the better standards of justice and of truthfulness which we have the right (some would say the duty) to militate for in the necessarily imperfect societies in which we live.

Obviously, I think of the writer of novels and stories and plays as a moral agent. In my view, a fiction writer whose adherence is to literature is, necessarily, someone who thinks about moral problems: about what is just and unjust, what is better or worse, what is repulsive and admirable, what is lamentable and what inspires joy and approbation. This doesn't entail moralizing in any direct or crude sense.

Serious fiction writers think about moral problems practically. They tell stories. They narrate. They evoke our common humanity in narratives with which we can identify, even though the lives may be remote from our own. They stimulate our imagination. The stories they tell enlarge and complicate—and, therefore, improve—our sympathies. They educate our capacity for moral judgment.

The second passage gains extra resonance as we try in some way to grasp the enormity of events Elsewhere Than Here, particularly the almost unimaginable devastation wreaked upon southern Asia by the Christmas tsunami:

Hearing the news of the earthquake that leveled Lisbon on Nov. 1, 1755, and (if historians are to be believed) took with it a whole society's optimism (but, obviously, I don't believe that societies have only one basic attitude), the great Voltaire was struck by our inveterate inability to take in what happened elsewhere. 'Lisbon lies in ruins,' Voltaire wrote, 'and here in Paris we dance.'

One might suppose that today, in the age of genocide, people would not find it either paradoxical or surprising that one can be so indifferent to what is happening simultaneously elsewhere. Is it not part of the fundamental structure of experience that 'now' refers to both 'here' and 'there'? And yet, I venture to assert, we are just as capable of being surprised by, and frustrated by the inadequacy of our response to, the simultaneity of wildly contrasting human fates as was Voltaire two and a half centuries ago. Perhaps it is our perennial fate to be surprised by the simultaneity of events, by the sheer extension of the world in time and space. That we are here, prosperous, safe, unlikely to go to bed hungry or be blown to pieces this evening, while elsewhere in the world, right now in Grozny, in Najaf, in the Sudan, in the Congo, in Gaza, in the favelas of Rio....

    * * *

It is a beginning of a response to this painful awareness to say: it's a question of sympathy, of the limits of the imagination. You can also say that it's not 'natural' to keep remembering that the world is so extended. That while this is happening, that is also happening.


But that, I would respond, is why we need fiction: to stretch our world.

Continue reading "Susan Sontag Breaks Camp, Moves On Into Larger World" »

Laurels Grow from Bushes

Congratulations are in order to Culture Weblogger in Chief Terry Teachout on the occasion of his official elevation to the post of Lord High Whisperer In The Ears of Those In Power.  Huzzah!  The honor is well earned.

The Honorable Terry has noticed, as perhaps have others -- I known I have -- that I am Not So Interesting recently as was once my wont, and he has signaled as much by quietly de-linking this Fool from his "Sites to See" blogroll.  O, the ignominy!  Chastened, I shall aspire to do better in future and to make of this a Teachout-able moment.

Bringing New Meaning to the Term, "Culture War"

This just in:

Faced with a mounting threat from insurgents and increasing apprehension from the public, the federal government took steps this week to make theaters safe from those who would seek to disrupt the American way of life.

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, announced a "War on Moronism" and authorized theaters throughout the United States to undertake a series of steps to rid themselves of what he called "that which blights live performance."

At a press conference Friday in Washington, Gioia unveiled a Moron Alert System, under which all concerts, plays and recitals would be color-coded to identify what the chairman referred to as "heightened and specific" threats to the integrity of a given performance.

* * *

The NEA/Homeland Security presence will be more visible at opening nights, expensive touring musicals and other high-profile events. Uniformed snipers armed with tranquilizer darts will be stationed throughout the theater, authorized to shoot-to-silence.

Sharpshooters will also have access to curare-tipped blow darts, Gioia said. This more lethal deterrent must be authorized by the theater's house manager, artistic director and an audience representative elected just prior to each performance.

Civil-rights groups immediately condemned the measures, which, inside the NEA, are referred to by the code-name, "Operation Get a Clue."

[Found via scribble, scribble, scribble...., which in turn was found via ::: wood s lot ::: (which also features at the moment some fine Jean Cocteau links), in context of acknowledging a link to this piece which in turn led to this lecture by Helen Vendler with rather a high Wallace Stevens content, all of which is only to show that it's a seamless Web indeed, don' cha know.]¹

¹ Through one of those links, you can learn the name of the band in which John Kerry played bass in 1961. Happy hunting.

Index We Trust

IT'S . . . . the Teachout Cultural Concurrence Index, now playing on cultural weblogs everywhere! Given my recent propensity for lists, how can I resist?

My own responses are detailed in the extended portion of this post, and establish me as proud owner of a TCCI of 64.38. That seems to be on the higher end of the reported results so far, which rather surprises me. Is there, perhaps, a correlation with my traffic reports, which always appear to show more of this site's readers originating on the East Coast than on the West?

Elsewhere, Rick at Futurballa reports his results, and offers a tentative Index of his own. Aaron Haspel, not surprisingly, has taken the opportunity to further complicate matters with a proposal for deep statistical analysis.

The curious can click on through for the entire list, and my own choices and notations:

Continue reading "Index We Trust" »